Opinion: Rethinking organisational support for employees in the wake of a terror attack


Businesses can and should focus on ensuring employees feel that they are safe – something Dr Fatima Junaid calls ‘perceived organisational security support’.

Dr Fatima Junaid

Dr Fatima Junaid, School of Management.

By Dr Fatima Junaid

As we think about the victims of the Lynn Mall terrorist attack, our heart goes out to them. At the same time, we have to think about the Countdown employees working who may be under trauma and perhaps feel fear for a long period of time.

Organisations may have to think differently in terms of how they support their employees in the context of terror by giving more importance to perceived safety within a workplace. This is an aspect which may be novel to us in New Zealand.

In the current context, Countdown took immediate and serious actions to ensure safety of the employees and the customers, which is a reasonable response. However, it should not be episodic in nature ­– it must be a part of an organisational preparedness plan, and a component of orientation. Indeed, it is mission critical to understand the implications of such events on wellbeing of people. In this regard, I discuss evidence-based ways in which organisations’ can help their employees during but also after such situations.

In events of terror, we see the Government and the company involved take immediate steps. When employees see events where an outsider (who can be anyone) indiscriminately commits an act of terror towards civilians, employees feel lack of safety in that point in time but also for a long period of time following. Employees working in grocery stores and malls, and for that matter any customer facing organisation might be feeling a sense of fear. So, businesses can and should focus on ensuring employees feel that they are safe – something I call ‘perceived organisational security support’.

In simple terms, it means two things. First, developing policy, process and procedure to ensure the security and safety of employees and consumers, which most organisations might already have in place or will be thinking about. Second, continually communicate that policy, process and procedure to the employees. As we realise the importance of developing this sense of safety and security, this does not come without challenges. The most important challenge is that employee turnover in the retail sector is very high. Constantly ensuring that employees are aware of the organisations policy and process of security and its associated protocols poses a significant challenge.

From a wellbeing perspective, removing knives from store shelves is a reasonable idea, but organisations will need to work on creating and maintaining conducive environments as they might see increased discrimination, and possibly hostility amongst employees of different ethnicities. In relation to fear, companies will have to rethink how to educate and inform staff regarding the policy and protocols of safety.

Feeling unsafe can create huge gaps between people, and can make people withdraw away from those they don’t know, or think are different from them. The current Auckland attack could very easily increase that divide. There is a lot of opportunity to reduce the friction between communities within the work context.

Perceived safety and security are corner stone towards emotional resilience and wellbeing. This is important for the employees, organisations and the community. At work one should feel safe, and this sense of safety and security positively influences their wellbeing. Although, one might argue that such incidents are not always controllable, which was very true in the context of my study as well the recent incident in Auckland. However, having a sense of safety is a strong factor that reduces fear and anxiety. Not knowing the safety measures and protocols can add (unnecessarily) to feeling afraid, much like fear begets fear.

Dr Fatima Junaid is an organisational science researcher with a PhD in the area of job stress, terrorism trauma and its effects on employee behaviours, based in the School of Management.

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